The following is the third of four guest posts by Prof. Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, writing about her new book, Political Brands.
Professor Hasen offered me the opportunity to excerpt my new
Brands on ELB. My publisher Edward Elgar Publishing
gave me permission to excerpt the books introductory chapter “Branding Itself.”
These excerpts have been edited for continuity.
The largest publicly traded companies are sometimes richer
than nations. They are big, global and
imposing, but they have two Achilles’ heels related to their brands: rejection
by their investors and shunning by their customers. If the brand is damaged, the company is
likely to suffer. Corporations typically
want to add to the value of their brands, not detract from it. The goodwill associated with a brand may well
be a company’s greatest asset.
Indeed, intellectual property litigation is often launched
by firms to ensure that no one is using a copyrighted brand logo, trade dress
or trademark in a way that would tarnish or harm a brand. As Justice Frankfurter once held: “The
protection of trade-marks is the law’s recognition of the psychological
function of symbols.” And the value of
these symbols can reach the billions. Forbes estimated the value of Nike’s swoosh
at $26 billion; though that pales in
comparison to Apple’s “apple with a missing bite” brand, which Forbes valued at $170 billion.
Typically, building up positive connotations for a brand is
done through advertising using standard puffery. Old standbys for advertisers are the
assertion (true or not) that if the customer buys this product, she will be
more powerful, rich, intelligent, sexy, envied or successful. But the lies to sell products can get out of
hand, as Vance Packard complained in his book The Waste Makers:
“Millions of consumers are manipulated, razzle-dazzled, indoctrinated,
mood-conditioned, and flimflammed.”
Jingles to sell products are often “earworms” that get stuck
in viewers’ heads. They can be so insidious that even if viewers hate the
product or the company behind it, the ad copy is stuck in their minds. As Drew
Westen notes, “[w]hen even people who don’t like your product are humming your
jingle, you know you’ve got them where it counts: in their [neural]
networks.” Likewise, ad man Nigel Hollis
engaging and memorable ads slip ideas past our defenses and seed memories that influence our behavior. You may not think advertising influences you. But marketers do. And in addition to millions of dollars, they have something else most people don’t have: Access to data that proves their point.
As the data crunchers over at Nielsen have found,
“[p]ractice (repetition) indeed makes perfect—and can help create durable
memories.” One of the oddities of
advertising brands is that some customers associate repetitive ads with
higher-quality products. Objectively, this is somewhat absurd, since a heavily
advertised item could be poorly constructed, carcinogenic or addictive. But
nonetheless, this is a measurable phenomenon:
Repetition of an ad may signal to consumers that the brand or product is a good buy, or a quality product. This is sometimes referred to as signaling theory. In 1975, University of Wyoming researchers Anthony McGann and Raymond Marquardt found that ads with high rates of repetition tended to also be rated as high quality in Consumer Reports.
And even more disturbingly, the more an ad is repeated, the
more viewers will believe it (even if the claim that is being repeated is not
true). “Studies suggest that repeated statements are perceived as more truthful
than statements made less frequently, ‘presumably because repetition imbues the
statement with familiarity.’ In simple terms: frequency breeds familiarity, and
familiarity breed trust.”
These commercial branding techniques can be used in political
ads as well.